A Change.org petition in support of Marrickville’s Bower Reuse & Recycle Centre has gained almost 10,000 signatures, as staff from the community recycling hub remain locked out of the building following the termination of its lease.
Last week, Addison Road Community Centre Organisation (ARCCO) issued a notice to evict The Bower, a not-for-profit recycling and reuse centre that has occupied Hut 34 of the nine-acre community hub for 20 years.
On Monday morning, staff arrived at the building to find the locks had been changed, and a notice implying trespassers on the property would be prosecuted.
“We’re still locked out. We’re still unable to operate, the store is still closed, we can’t trade,” The Bower’s general manager Guido Verbist told Broadsheet.
The eviction comes after an Inner West Council inspector visited the site and found parts of the building – an onsite kitchen and a repair shed – were built without approval.
Verbist says The Bower has actively sought to remedy the works, including submitting engineer and architect reports and “alternative plans” to the council. He says The Bower is within its rights to do so but ARCCO is demanding the works be demolished. “The compliance procedure has been abused by them as a catalyst to evict us … ARCCO doesn’t want us to correct the wrongs; they don’t want it to be restored; they just want it to be demolished.”
A spokesperson for ARCCO said an eviction notice was necessary to ensure the safety of the entire centre after “the repeated failure of formal requests to comply and the failure of mediated negotiations”.
Verbist says the eviction notice is an unfortunate climax to five years of deteriorating relations between The Bower and ARCCO.
In 2013, Verbist says ARCCO engaged in “deceptive conduct” to reduce the organisation’s lease from five to two years by not drawing his attention to the reduced leasing terms (though he admits he should have more properly scrutinised the lease agreement); and that The Bower and the nearby Reverse Garbage – another popular reuse centre located at the ARCCO – have been subject to a 250 per cent rent hike.
A spokesperson from ARCCO denies these claims and said all organisations subletting from ARCCO were moved from leases to maximum two-year licences. “This was communicated carefully to The Bower, and its representative even signed the licence 11 days after receiving it,” the spokesperson said, adding the rent increase was proposed as an “incremental increase” over five years and would still keep The Bower’s rent below market value.
Verbist says The Bower plays an important role in the community. It provides used furniture to refugee and domestic violence support services, and also partners with 21 metropolitan local councils to collect unwanted household goods and divert them from landfill.
“Everything is at a standstill,” he says. “If we can’t continue operating, all that is going to discontinue.”
In a statement, the Inner West Council Mayor Darcy Byrnes said he wants The Bower to stay, and that the matter can be resolved without eviction.
“Mayor Byrne has also offered mediation to resolve the issues between ARCCO and The Bower, but to date ARCCO have not responded to this offer,” it says.
A spokesperson for ARCCO says it has not received any formal offer of mediation from the mayor’s office.